Consensus or legal way?

The industry and its regulator are many a times at loggerheads as their inter- ests clash. It is more so in industries that are sensitive from the point of view of people’s lives, like food and medicine industry, where an error by the manufacturer and turning a blind eye to that error by reg- ulator can cost dearly. Their interests clash as one wishes to rush a product to the market, while the other wants to scrutinise it thor- oughly before that, even if it involves delay.
In case of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the NuFFooDS sector also, the recent judgement of Bombay High Court quashing the former’s advisory on product approval has brought to the fore an important issue of the nature of relations between them. For past over a year the in- dustry was upset over the issue of approval for even existing products as it had delayed marketing and selling of the products thus affecting business adversely.
The industry claimed it had no option but to move the court as its contention was not heard. The court, in a majority judgement, has not only quashed the advisory, but it has hit at the very base of the FSSAI’s authority in issuing such advisories. With this victory, the industry has begun pushing forward its views on the issue.
Self-regulation is, till now, just a murmur. Very few people are talking about it. But ingredient approval, to replace the product approval is a strong voice. Following the May 2013 advisory, the industry was asking ques- tions why product approval for products that are already being sold in the market and are known to be safe product, unless there is a specific complaint about a certain product.
From that, the industry turned to the ques- tion as to why product approval at all. Quot- ing global practices, it is demanding approval
for only new and till now unused ingredients. There are other issues too – related to la- belling, Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) etc. where the industry has a view- point. On the other hand the FSSAI too has equally strong viewpoints on each of these issues with valid arguments, related to public safety. Even Hollywood star and former gov- ernor of California, US, Arnold Schwarzeneg- ger, acknowledges it when he says, “Gov- ernment’s first duty and highest obligation is public safety.” And obviously public safety cannot be compromised for any reason.
However, as a regulator, FSSAI has its one duty towards public safety, but another to- wards industry also. It is the regulator which is expected to create an open eco-system wherein the industry would flourish.
Following the court judgement, the FSSAI has two options. One is obviously a legal route – going into appeal to the higher court and bringing in product approval regulato- ry following the procedure. Another is route finding consensus – by opening dialogue with the industry, accommodating some of its viewpoints, pushing forward some of its own and going ahead with consensus rules and regulations. That will avoid delays and would help the industry grow faster.
Eleven months ago, in the maiden issue of NuFFooDS Spectrum, we featured a cover story on FSSAI with a hope ‘Hurdles to Har- monisation’. Unfortunately, from industry’s reactions it doesn’t seem to have happened. It is for FSSAI to take initiative and call the in- dustry to begin the harmonization process. It will then be for the industry to respond and find a midway with the help of FSSAI. If that happens, it will be long lasting and ben- eficial for both.

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